After all the misery inflicted on it trying to get a grip on small boats in the Channel, the Government is surely aware of how a high-profile case of disorder and loss of control can stick in the public imagination.
So as the nation braces for what may be the most painful cost-of-living contraction in decades, the site of Extinction Rebellion once again bringing essential infrastructure to a halt must give ministers the chills.
In addition to their usual stunts – blocking major bridges in order to “grind London to a halt” – activists ‘Just Stop Oil’ have also blockaded several oil depots, disrupting supplies and causing added misery for motorists already facing rising prices at the pumps.
And with crushing familiarity, the pictures coming out are of protesters sat in the middle of highways, mounting what is not less than a coordinated attack on critical infrastructure at a time of crisis, whilst the police are just standing there.
And as ever, lots of police officers standing around not enforcing the law. https://t.co/sBCp8ge8Rm
— Nick Timothy (@NJ_Timothy) April 10, 2022
Both the Government and the police do in some senses face an uphill struggle. There is only so much good ramping up arrests if those individuals are released to go straight back to the protests, and then indulgent juries let them off when they do end up in court.
Yet voters surely won’t extent too much sympathy to a Government which has now been in office, with a very substantial overall majority, for two years. It’s one thing to pin the failure to deliver new police powers on Labour in a hung parliament. Come 2024, it may not fly.
It is also frustrating, frankly, to see Essex Police couching their operation in terms of the safety of officers and protesters. Yes, that is important, but it also smacks of the attitude that has previously seen officers appear to take quite an indulgent stance on lawbreaking if stepping in and preventing it risked injury to the criminals responsible.
Finally passing the long-overdue Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts (PCSC) Bill must be the start, and not the end, of the Government’s efforts to make our legal and institutional response to this sort of challenge fit for purpose.
The ‘right to protest’ is not a right to do whatever you wish, so long as you have political reasons. It definitely shouldn’t compass planned and persistent attacks on this country’s fuel and transportation infrastructure.